When people think of orthodontia, usually a mouth full of braces, a strategically-placed rubber band or two, and possibly some headgear comes to mind. However, at the end of a person’s orthodontic treatment comes an orthodontic retainer, which may seem like an afterthought.
The Orthodontic Retainer
The retainer serves an extremely important function. This piece of hardware ensures that your teeth don’t move back to their old positions once the braces come off. As with any piece of orthodontic hardware that is in the line of duty, so to speak, a retainer will wear out. If you or your child are currently undergoing orthodontic work, one of the questions you may be asking yourself is, “How long do removable retainers last?”
If you or your loved one/s are at this stage in your orthodontic work, read on. Dr. Adam Schulhof, an orthodontist specializing in Lingual braces, will explain the different types of retainers. He’ll also explain how long you can expect a removable retainer to last.
Bonded or Permanent Retainers
An orthodontic retainer is a piece of hardware that your orthodontist creates for you to wear after your braces come off. A couple of different kinds exist. First, your ortho may create a bonded retainer for you. This type of retainer is also called a permanent retainer. When the time comes, your ortho will shape a wire to fit your teeth and then adhere it to the backs of your teeth with orthodontic glue.
Most of the time, you’ll wear this type of retainer on your bottom teeth. These do offer you some convenience, in that you do not have to remember to put them into your mouth or to carry them with you when you travel. However, these types of retainers make it more difficult to clean and floss your teeth, which is a downside for many orthodontic patients.
You can expect this kind of retainer to last up to five years, though you may find that the glue will start with chip away within the first couple of months. It is possible to have a permanent retainer removed and replaced with another kind. (Those will be covered below.)
If you’re familiar with retainers at all, it’s likely that it’s the Hawley that you know best. This piece of orthodontic equipment consists of an acrylic piece that fits the roof of the patient’s mouth. A heavy wire is attached to the retainer: This wire keeps the front six teeth in place. Sometimes, there is an additional piece of plastic/ acrylic over the wire that has been form-fitted to your teeth. Thus making the fit extra snug.
This type of retainer is very hearty. Whereas a permanent retainer can start to wear out after three years and the Essix – more on this kind in a minute – can start to wear out after six months, this type of retainer is usually good to go for at least five years. And it has been known to last up to 10 years.
Your ortho should also give you a carrying case for this kind of retainer. It’ll help to keep your retainer clean and to protect it from harm when it’s not in your mouth. Finally, the carrying case will serve as a visual reminder: You are less likely to accidentally throw your retainer away if you put it in the case. That is not always the case if you stow your retainer in a napkin to eat in a restaurant.
The kind of retainer looks a bit like the Invisalign mouthpiece. In that, it’s a clear plastic piece that you place onto your teeth. (If visions of a football player’s mouthpiece come to mind, you probably have a pretty good idea of what this type of retainer looks like.)
This type of retainer appeals to people who need to wear their retainer on a fairly regular basis – up to 22 hours a day – after their braces are removed. Because it is clear plastic, it is more difficult to see and therefore, less visually obtrusive than a retainer with a fitted metal piece.
These retainers have a downside, however. Over time, they will crack or even break with wear and tear. A good dose of very hot water will also distort the shape of this kind of orthodontic apparatus. They also must be cleaned carefully before you place them in your mouth. You can expect this type of retainer to last up to three years. However, it can begin to wear out after six months.
Final Thoughts on How Long Retainers Last
If you are considering braces for yourself or your child, one of the questions you will likely ask your orthodontic professional at some point is, “How long do removable retainers last?” It’s an important question because orthodontic work can cost a great deal of money. Getting the right retainer for you or your child is, therefore, very important.
While your ortho may fit you with a permanent, bonded retainer, chances are actually very good that you will get one of two types of removable retainers – the Hawley or the Essix. An orthodontic retainer serves a very important function. That is to say that all of the good effects that your smile got from wearing braces might be undone if you don’t have a retainer to wear.
An Orthodontic retainer may last as few as six months and up to 10 years. This depends on the kind you get and how well you take care of it. As a rule, a retainer made of acrylic/ plastic and metal wires will have a longer shelf life than one made of just plastic or even a bonded one.
Contact us Today
If you are considering orthodontia for yourself or for one of your children, make an appointment with Dr. Adam Schulhof today. He is an experienced orthodontist, who specializes in Lingual braces. Not to mention he loves to give people beautiful smiles. He and his team can answer questions about every stage of the orthodontic process, from X-rays and castings all the way to retainers.
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The Schulhof Center
125 East 69th Street
New York, NY 10021
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